The Tehachapi Mountains have been host to an ensemble cast of interesting and diverse characters over the years. A sparsely populated area that was off the beaten path in California's development, Tehachapi has been home to many unique and rugged individualists. One of these was a lifelong railroad man named Frank Alphonse Nejedly.
Frank roamed throughout the Tehachapi area, by horse and on foot, on a railroad handcar and in the earliest automobiles. He had an old Kodak Brownie box camera (now at the Tehachapi Museum) and Frank took photos of his robust life in the hills and mountains of Kern County. He explored and hunted all over this area.
Frank was born in Ohio on Dec. 6, 1882, to John and Anna Nejedly. It is not known exactly when he came to Tehachapi, but at least by 1907, when he was 25 years old, he was working for the Southern Pacific Railroad as a telegraph operator.
In those days there were still a scattering of small railroad depots along the tracks between here and Bena, places like Cable and Marcel whose names today are largely known only to rail employees and Tehachapi-literate rail fans. Frank worked as a railroad telegrapher at the isolated Cable station, and possibly others.
Oldtime rail employees were typically listed by the initials of their first and middle names, followed by their surname, so many references to Frank list him as F.A. Nejedly, in the railroad tradition. The name Nejedly, which is apparently Irish, is easier to say than it looks — it's pronounced like "edge-ly" with an "N" in front of it. It is a highly uncommon name.
In 1907, there was a national road race whose route passed through the Tehachapi Mountains. The course was reportedly from Chicago to Texas to San Francisco and back. The driver of a 1904 Royal Tourist car made his way into the town of Tehachapi, and then headed west to descend to Bakersfield. He reached a steep portion of the then-dirt road, at an infamous section known as Halter Grade, just past the current boundaries of Golden Hills.
The young driver failed to negotiate a steep curve, and overturned his car and broke his arm. He decided to end his participation in the race, and summarily sold his car to Frank Nejedly. Maybe Frank was one of the first ones on the scene, since Halter Grade was not too far from the Cable station.
In any case, Frank repaired the car, named it Fatima, and the two of them became a regular sight on dirt roads, single meandering tracks or even offroad in the Tehachapi area. The primitive roadster had no doors, no windshield and no headlights. It was known around town for having smooth tires and dubious brakes. Frank added a large spotlight on the cowling. Contemporaries could not remember him ever having licensed or registered Fatima.
I have long considered Frank Nejedly a friend of mine, even though he died at age 81 on June 22, 1963, a year before I was born, and is buried at Tehachapi Westside Cemetery. But he had given many of his photos and some belongings to his friends and neighbors Herb and Ola Mae Force.
As a youngster, I was friends with the Forces and often went to visit them in their antique-filled home across E. Street from Tehachapi Hospital. They told me stories about Frank, and I looked through the old black and white photos of a handsome, adventurous man in outside scenes throughout the area, often accompanied by a dog. I developed a sense of kinship with this other Tehachapi resident whom I had never met and yet still knew.
In the physical sense, we are all confined to the time period in which our lives take place. The dates of our birth, life and eventual death limit who we can experience firsthand. People who heard Jenny Lind, or even Edith Piaf, in live performances probably weren't around to experience Adele or Lady Gaga.
But with the preservative magic of photography, film and recording, as well as personal remembrances and written accounts, we can still connect with those who came before us, and perhaps in turn, those who follow can someday connect with us.
Frank Nejedly spent 50 years with SP, eventually becoming a freight conductor when technology phased out the need for telegraphers, and he didn't retire until the 1950s. He knew the geography of the Tehachapi Mountains better than probably anyone who's ever lived. His playful and adventuresome spirit live on in the photos he left behind.
Thank you, Frank Nejedly, for your shared love of the Tehachapi Mountains, and for the enthusiasm with which you lived your life. I sure wish I could have known you, and explored Tehachapi in person with you. But I remain,
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to email@example.com.